Casper’s downtown was nothing to look at in its early days.
Drafty wood buildings sprung up at breakneck speed on the boomtown’s dusty, muddy makeshift roads.
That started to change by 1894, when one of Casper’s first modern brick buildings opened to the public.
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The three-story Grand Central Hotel, located on the southwest corner of Second and Center Streets, was built by a man named David Graham and was one of Casper’s largest buildings.
According to a Casper Tribune-Herald & Star article from 1957, the hotel featured a lobby, bar, gambling hall and restaurant. A grand wraparound porch on the second floor extended from the Center Street to Second Street facade.
“Good meals were served in the dining room, and some banquets were held there, with many elaborate menus composed of fancy foods shipped in especially from Denver,” according to the article.
The hotel was the hot meeting spot for businessmen and socialites in its early years, and offered a rare touch of luxury in the dusty, rugged town.
In a 1959 Tribune-Herald article, Mrs. Alta Barnes talked about her recollections of the hotel as a pioneer child.
“Mrs. Barnes told of the gatherings held in the Grand Central Hotel, a very elegant hostelry for that day,” according to the article. “Social gatherings, political meetings, any affair of any importance, was held in the Grand Central. She recalled the ranchers and their families who came to town…and the dances given there by the young people.”
New hotels were built as Casper grew in the 1920s, particularly at the intersection of Center and First Streets where the Gladstone, Hotel Henning and the Townsend all offered visitors modern rooms with private baths and more space.
The Grand Central changed hands in 1914 and by 1929 the owners had closed the top hotel floors. The large upstairs porch had been taken down at some point before that, and the brick facade appears to have been painted or plastered.
The building changed hands again in 1952, and in a Tribune-Herald article the new owners hoped to restore the building back to its glory days.
That wasn’t meant to be.
In Nov. 1954 it was announced that local businessman Fred Goodstein had purchased the corner building.
Goodstein was kind of a big deal here. He was president of Trigood Oil Co. and American Pipe and Supply, Co., as well as a director at the Wyoming National Bank. He formed Goodstein Enterprises to develop property in Casper.
“As most people realize, there has been a serious need for additional office space to accommodate the many business firms, mostly oil companies, which have decided to make Casper their headquarters,” Goodstein to told the Tribune-Herald in 1957.
“A long-time resident of Casper who has been eminently successful here, Fred Goodstein has been warmly acclaimed for reinvesting his money in this community where he has prospered,” gushed the Tribune-Herald.
The old Grand Central Hotel was demolished in 1955, with salvaged mementoes heading to the Pioneer Museum. The Kimball building, which for decades housed the Saddle Rock Cafe and Arcade Bar next to the Grand Central on Center, was partially demolished down to one-story when inspectors deemed it unstable after losing its neighbor.
On August 15, 1957, the public was welcomed to marvel at Goodstein’s modern Petroleum Building in an open house. A Walgreen’s drug store occupied the ground corner floor where the Grand Central Bar had stood before.
The sleek glass and steel building designed by the firm of Bence and Stein was a stunning contrast to the squat, brick buildings downtown. No doubt it must have seemed like a gleaming symbol of Casper’s future.
The Grand Central Hotel is basically forgotten. It lived in the heart of Casper for 65-years and saw Casper transition from a scrappy pioneer town to Wyoming’s business center.
Goodstein’s Petroleum Building is just four-years shy of the Grand Central’s age of death, but by all appearances it has many years of life ahead.